Currently, most of the focus is on trying to figure out who the presumably five Performer inductees will be from the list of fifteen nominees. And rightly so, it gets the most attention, it features the names that people are most familiar with, and it easily makes for the liveliest debate. But the Performer category is only one category of inductees. True Rock Hall Monitors are also interested in who gets inducted in the other categories. So let’s speculate.
There hasn’t been a legitimate induction in the Early Influence category since 2000, when Billie Holiday and Nat “King” Cole got their due, and Cole’s induction indicated the possibility of legendary pre-rock singers being inducted as Early Influences in the future, since most of them dabbled in helping make jazz popular, which helped push African-American music toward the forefront of popular culture. However, that hasn’t panned out Now, though, we have an interesting possibility. The “Women Who Rock” exhibit at the Hall Of Fame’s Museum in Cleveland made a specific reference to that of Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Tharpe is one of the most supported candidates for the EI category, and since the voting process can’t guarantee any female inductees, they may want to get the biggest bang for their exhibit and induct her. If the Hall Of Fame wanted to strike a second time, and do it with another woman, there’s no better choice than jazz queen Ella Fitzgerald, though she is a bit of a longer shot. Otherwise, don’t look for any inductions in this category.
THE AHMET ERTEGUN AWARD (NON-PERFORMER)
Picking this category is often very difficult. The Hall Of Fame surprised us quite pleasantly when they finally honored Mort Shuman, Jesse Stone, and the songwriting teams of Greenwich & Barry and Mann & Weil in 2010. Since last year, they honored two record company founders, they may go for songwriters again, or producers, or maybe some outside person. Back in 2010, Roger Friedman claimed a leak confirmed that David Geffen would be inducted in 2010, and Doug Morris in 2011. Geffen was indeed inducted in 2010, but Morris was not in 2011. Maybe they decided to backpedal a little, but Morris does seem to have the right friends in the right places and was involved enough as a producer and a writer that it seems possible. Honestly, the more I read about him, the less I like the possibility of him getting the honors, but there’s a chance of it happening. On the other hand, if they do want to go for songwriters again, the recent passing of Nickolas Ashford puts him and wife and songwriting partner Valerie Simpson up at the top of the list. Rolling Stone even did a half page eulogy of his accomplishments as half of Motown’s second biggest songwriting team. Even though they did have an impressive string of R&B hits in the ‘70s and ‘80s, they’re better remembered as songwriters, so this is the category they’re most likely to get honors in, and this would be the optimal year to do it, so don’t be surprised.
SIDE-MAN/MUSICAL EXCELLENCE AWARD
Which now brings us to the biggest tongue-wagger and dome-scratcher: what to make of this scene? There is a lot of question regarding the Side-Man category and the Musical Excellence Award. And there’s an entire other blog entry to be written about the questions found here. Is the latter a re-naming of the former, similar to calling the Non-Performer category the “Ahmet Ertegun Award”? Interviews with some of the power-that-be suggest otherwise, saying this category will allow them the freedom to do things they hadn’t quite been able to do before; however, the news stories all treated it as if it were a simple renaming of the Side-Man category. And to be honest, making the first such induction Leon Russell really only muddies the picture further. Russell is absolutely worthy of induction, but you could really put him in as either a Performer or a Side-Man. Elton John’s induction speech mentioned primarily his accomplishments as a session musician, but also made mention of his records as a primary artist.
So at this point, we’re really not sure what’s happening with this category, and it’s possible that the people at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Foundation aren’t entirely certain, either. And maybe it’s best that they maintain that ambiguity for a little longer too, until they’re set. If so, then the best possible induction to maintain that shroud of mystery would, in my opinion, be Ry Cooder, a prominent session man with an impressive catalog as a recording artist, too. Another possibility would be the Wichita lineman himself, Glen Campbell, whose solo records might raise an eyebrow of suspicion, given his more country proclivities, but whose value as a side musician are impeccable enough to withstand any maelstrom of criticism.
However, if they do have it in their mind what they’re going to do, it’s a matter of sitting and watching. If “Musical Excellence Award” is really a renaming of the “Side-Man” category, then I still stand by my recommendation of Tommy Tedesco, one of Phil Spector’s regulars, as one of the best next choices. Or maybe they could finally get around to recognizing back-up singers, which there’s no better place to begin than with the Jordanaires.
However, my gizzard gets a bit queasy with the arrival of this category last year, and the noticeable absence of Chic and Chuck Willis from this year’s ballot, particularly the former. I have no objection to the Musical Excellence Award essentially becoming a Lifetime Achievement category. They have a Lifetime Achievement category, and it’d be nice to treat it as more than a subset of the Non-Performer category. But don’t set up this category just to circumvent the nomination process and put in pet acts that you’re having a difficult time getting inducted despite many nominations. I really don’t think this is going to happen, but you never know.
So there are some thoughts about who I feel are likely to be the next inductees in the categories other than Performer. I’ll probably have my predictions up for the Performer inductees around Thanksgiving or so.